Thursday's (1-15) Baseball Practice Notes

Preseason practice is in full swing as the team prepares for the 2004 campaign. In intrasquad games, a couple of pitchers are asserting themselves as the top hurlers on the club. In addition, there is one key battle between two players for a spot up the middle. Read on for the notes on these topics plus much more.

In today's intrasquad game, two hitting teams of seven matched up against each other.  In 8 1/2 innings of play, the final score was 8-3 as Donny Lucy and Ben Summerhays both homered.  On the mound, five hurlers saw time on the hill which included standout performances from Mark Romanczuk and Jeff Gilmore.

Kodiak Quick and Matt Leva were the starters today and both struggled mightily in their respective first inning's of work.  Quick allowed a pair of runs on two hits while Leva surrendered three runs on four hits as the Cardinal offense flexed their muscles.  What's impressive about both Quick's and Leva's outings is that both were able to settle down and pitch effectively.  In his final three innings of work, Quick didn't allow a hit while walking two and striking out two.  This is now two times in a row this preseason that Quick has struggled in his first inning.  I would chalk it up to rust after he took the fall off, but with Kodiak likely playing the role of a late inning relief pitcher this season, he'll need to be sharp from the get-go when he enters the game.  Still, two times now once he's shaken off the rust, Quick has been very effective as evident by the no hits allowed over his final three innings today.

Leva also pitched very well after getting roughed up in the first inning.  He didn't allow a hit in his next two frames before giving up one run on one base hit in his final inning of work.  I'm very impressed with the offspeed stuff Leva brings to the table.  It's keeping the best hitters in this Stanford lineup off balance and out on their front foot.  He threw only nasty hook to Mayberry that got Junior swinging for strike three.  Very impressive work, once again, from Matt Leva.

Mark Romanczuk is starting to assert himself as the top pitcher on this team.  While Matt Manship has risen the level of his game this offseason, Romanczuk is following suit.  In today's game, the southpaw fired four quality innings yielding one run on three hits.  He walked none (hitters are now starting with the standard 0-0 count) while striking out four.  The no walks from Romanczuk is huge as he was throwing all of his pitches for strikes and going inside and outside nicely.  When his control is in check (and even sometimes when it's a little off), this sophomore is easily one of the top left handed pitchers in college baseball.

One other note ... Romanczuk is pitching one day ahead of Manship during these preseason practices (Manship will throw tomorrow).  This likely means that Romanczuk will get the nod on opening night in just over two weeks with Manship getting the ball a day later.  They may just be a pair of sophomores, but watch out, these guys may be the best 1-2 starting pitching combo this side of Rice (Fullerton may have something to say about that though).

Meanwhile, another excellent outing from Jeff Gilmore.  The surprise of fall ball, Gilmore hasn't skipped a beat here in January.  Today, Gilmore tossed 3 2/3 innings while allowing one earned run (two runs total) on three hits.  He walked one and struck out three.  Gilmore struggled a bit in his first inning when he gave up that earned on three hits, but it was lights out after that as the sophomore righty was untouchable.  I pointed out in the last practice report that Gilmore has been so impressive that he may be getting a look as Stanford's #3 starter.  I'll examine this topic in more detail at a later date.

Finally, sophomore Pete Duda threw today.  Duda looks improved, but needs to further develop his off-speed stuff if he's going to see any significant action this year.  Today, Duda allowed two runs on three hits in 2 1/3 innings.  He did now walk or strike out a batter.

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As for the hitters ... before I get to who stood out today, take a look at the batting orders for the two teams:

1. Sam Fuld, CF
2. Brian Hall, RF
3. Danny Putnam, LF
4. Donny Lucy, C
5. Chris Minaker, SS
6. Chris Lewis, 2B
7. Ben Summerhays, 1B

1. Adam Sorgi, SS
2. Jed Lowrie, 2B
3. John Mayberry, Jr., 1B
4. Chris Carter, LF
5. John Hester, C
6. Jim Rapoport, CF
7. Ryan Seawell, RF

* Add Jonny Ash to this group (he sat out today's practice, but was in uniform) and you have the top 15 position players on the team.

* It's been well chronicled on this site that the only spot in the lineup really up for grabs is the middle infield position being fought out between Lewis and Sorgi.  Interesting to note Sorgi hitting 1st for his hitting group.  Sorgi had a great fall with the bat and has kept it going this month.  Sorgi is the stronger defensive player of the two.  Lewis obviously has a year of experience under his belt and hits for more power than Sorgi.  Lewis hasn't been hitting poorly, but Sorgi has been more impressive with the bat in practice.  Sorgi has defense over Lewis, so it's up to Chris to hit well if he wants to stay in the lineup.  I would guess that both players will see plenty of action early in the season.

* Lowrie will obviously have a spot somewhere up the middle this year.  All throughout practice this past week, Lowrie has been playing second with Sorgi over at short.  So it seems that if Sorgi does start, he could very well get the nod at shortstop (Sorgi can just as easily play second base though).  It's as if Coach Marquess is putting Sorgi out in the fire by placing him at shortstop during these intrasquad games.  He wants see if he can handle playing such a demanding position as a freshman. 

* If Lewis starts, he would play second with Lowrie over at shortstop.

* Putnam and Mayberry, Jr. are manning the #3 positions during these practice games.  It's a pretty safe bet that they will hit third and fourth respectively in the batting order.  If you haven't seen Junior yet this school year, he's bulked up and has changed his batting stance slightly.  He may have struggled at the end of last season, but everything I've seen from him in practice tells me he's going to have a breakout year.

* The outfield alignment continues to be Putnam in left and Hall in right.

* Lucy and Carter are each hitting fourth in these hitting groups.  Both of these players will presumably be somewhere in the fifth to seventh spots in the batting order come opening day.

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The top performer with the bat today was Brian Hall.  The senior outfielder went 3-for-5 with a double, triple, and an RBI.  Both his double and triple were smoked to deep center field.  Fuld had a standard 2-for-5 afternoon.  Lucy had a nice day as he went 2-for-6 with a home run and three RBI.  The home run was of the line drive variety over the wall in left off Romanczuk  It was the only run Romanczuk surrendered all game.  Summerhays also broke out of a mini slump today.  After struggling the first three games this month, Summerhays went 2-for-5 with a home run and a double.  He should be a valuable left handed pinch hitter off the bench.

On the other team, there wasn't nearly as much offense.  Mayberry, Jr. had a pair of RBI's on a single and a sacrifice fly.  Sorgi had just one hit, but it was a memorable one as he cracked a double that one hopped the wall in right off Gilmore.  Finally, frosh Ryan Seawell had a nice afternoon with a 2-for-4 performance.

Notes:
* One of positives of having such an experienced lineup is the great situational hitting.  This was very evident in today's game.  Fuld, Putnam, and Mayberry all came through with sacrifice flys when the situation called for one.  This is also a very underrated part of Hall's game.  He may not put up the kind of numbers Fuld and Putnam do, but Hall is invaluable to this team.  Not just with his defensive versatility and his great speed, but his ability to move runners over with a bunt, hit behind runners, and drive them home with sacrifice flys.  He's also an excellent base runner.  In fact, really all the older guys on this team run the bases very well.  Situational hitting and base running are two very underrated parts of the game of baseball, but are two things that this team (and really just about every Cardinal baseball squad) does very well.  It's a product of excellent coaching of the fundamentals.

* Case in point: in this afternoon's game, Jed Lowrie came up with runners on first and second and none out with Leva on the hill.  The situation may call for a bunt, but because Lowrie has been so hot and bunts are very rarely ever called in these intrasquad games, Jed was allowed to hit.  He fell behind in the count quickly, and with two strikes, rolled a soft ground ball to first base that was fielded easily for the putout.  Sounds like a harmless play, but it moved the runners over and it gave his team two runners in scoring position with just one out.  With two strikes, Lowrie did the smart thing by just finding a way to make contact and getting the runners over.  In a close game, having two guys at second and third with one out as opposed to just first and second is absolutely huge.  Coach Marquess was singing the praise of Lowrie as he jogged back to the dugout (about as much happiness that you'll see from a coach on a weak groundout to first) and was quick to point out to rest of the players on the bench just how important a play like that was.

* I mentioned in my last report that Carter looked terrible in his AB against Romanczuk last week (a key lefty-vs.-lefty matchup that Carter traditionally has a big problem with).  Well, Carter has looked much better in the last two games.  On Monday facing frosh lefty Blake Holler, Carter ripped a line drive to left field (it was caught, but was a very loud out).  Then today, Carter while facing Romanczuk again, smoked a fly ball to deep center field.  Both very encouraging at-bats.  Hopefully a step in the right direction as Carter tries to solidify himself as an everyday starter, not just as one against right handed pitching.

* A few brief notes from Monday's intrasquad game ... four hitters had big games.  Mayberry, Jr. went 2-for-2 with a home run and three RBI.  Sorgi was a perfect 3-for-3, all singles (he also made a pair of fantastic defensive plays at shortstop - one on a diving catch going to his right, the other on a beautiful sweep tag on an attempted steal with the throw way wide of the bag).  Putnam continued to crush the ball with a 2-for-3, 2B, 4 RBI afternoon.  Finally, Lowrie remained hot as he finished the day 3-for-5 with a double.

* On the mound, the most notable performance came from Mark Jecmen.  Jecmen struggled for the majority of the fall (not really with control, but rather getting hit around), but he put it all together in this outing.  In 2 1/3 scoreless innings, Jecmen allowed just one harmless single, walked none, and struck out three.  When he does put it all together, Jecmen can be flat-out dominating.  Hopefully he can build on this outing.

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